Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories about former foreign exchange students who spent time in Redwood Falls, the experiences they have had since returning home and how they are dealing with the current issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Alice Ballota left Redwood Falls in June 2016, she knew it would be some time before she would see her American family again.

Little did she know in March 2020, as a university student, that the time would come when she would not be able to see family in her homeland of Italy.

Ballota, an exchange student who attended Redwood Vally High School during the 2015-16 academic year, has since finished high school and is currently pursuing a degree in international and diplomatic science. Ballota is planning to graduate in July.

According to Ballota, education took on a whole new meaning when she was in Redwood Falls, as she not only learned about the American way life, she also learned a lot about herself. 

According to Ballota, “being an exchange student has definitely been one of the best experience I did in my life.”

She said it helped her grow in so many ways.

“I became more responsible, independent and learned a lot from my experience,” Ballota added. “Once I got back in Italy I knew that part of me was different but in a positive way.”

Ballota started to hear news about coronavirus in December, but it wasn’t concerning Italy at the time.

“Even when we had the first cases here I did not think it would escalate like it did,” she added. “I started to change my mind when at the beginning of March the government decided to put the whole country on lockdown. Then I realized it was something dangerous, and that we all needed to do something to help the situation and go back to normal as soon as possible.”

Ballota was supposed to start her last semester at the end of February, but universities and schools closed. So she started to do online classes.

Except for that change, life had still been kind of normal.

“Then, on March 9, the government decided to put the whole country on lockdown, and that’s when life really changed,” Ballota explained.

She cannot leave her house unless it is absolutely necessary, and if she goes out she is required to have this “self-declaration” paper. That way if the police stop her they know why she is out.

According to Ballota, “I think that what has been decided by the government was the best option. We have had a lot of people who got the virus and too many of them could not make it. So it has been a pretty hard time for Italy. Everything has been shut down, except grocery stores, pharmacies or places what sell things that are necessary.”

Ballota has not seen family (her dad and grandparents), boyfriends or friends since March 9, and she only goes out for groceries.

“It has been hard, but I try to stay positive and I spend my time studying, cooking or enjoying some family time. I’m just hoping that everything will get better soon,” added Ballota.

For now Ballota is just concentrating on finishing her last exams and getting her degree. Her future plans are to pursue a Masters degree in crime, justice and security at the Alma Mater Studiorum in Bologna. She is also planning to do a lot of traveling, including making a return trip to Minnesota soon.

“I just really hope that everything will end in a good way, and that from now on we will see no more people dying of this virus. I’ve never thought I would experience something like this, and it’s scary because everyone can get very sick,” explained Ballota. “I know that there so many people at work to fight coronavirus and help the ones who got sick. I just want to thank them, because they are making a difference and soon everything will be okay. As we say here in Italy, ‘andrà tutto bene’.”